Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Marriage Proposal for Moses.


A commentary by Sayyid Qutb


In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent

One of the two women then came back to him, walking shyly, and said: “My father invites you, so that he might duly reward you for having watered our flock for us.” And when (Moses) went to him and told him his story, he said: “Have no fear. You are now safe from those wrongdoing folk.”

Said one of the two women: “My father! Hire him; for the best person that you could hire is one who is strong and worthy of trust.”

(The father) said: “I will give you one of these two daughters of mine in marriage on the understanding that you will remain eight years in my service. If you should complete ten years, it will be of your own choice. I do not wish to impose any hardship on you. You will find me, if God so wills, an upright man.”

Answered (Moses): “This is agreed between me and you. Whichever of the two terms I fulfill, I trust I shall not be wronged. God is the witness to all we say.”

(The Story, Al-Qasas: 28: 25-28)

Having arrived in Madyan after his long flight, Moses helped two women, watering their sheep for them, as they could not do it themselves as long as other shepherds scrambled for water. When he completed this task for them and they drove away, he sat down to rest. However, one of them came back to deliver her father’s invitation to him, which he accepted. When he told his story to the man, the other assured him that he was now safe and secure.

We then hear a feminine voice that reflects honesty and propriety: “Said one of the two women: My father! Hire him; for the best person that you could hire is one who is strong and worthy of trust.” (Verse 26)

Both she and her sister have been enduring the hard tasks of tending sheep, fending for themselves in the midst of men, being unavoidably in physical contact with them as happens when a woman does a man’s job. Both of them are not happy with all this. She prefers to be at home, a housewife who does not have to compete with strangers at grazing and watering places. A virtuous woman with a pure heart is ill at ease when she has to go through that. Here she sees a young man, a stranger in the town, but at the same time, he is strong and trustworthy. She has seen how the other shepherds held him in awe, opening the way for him when he watered her sheep. However, he is in a weak position because he is a stranger. She also recognized him as worthy of trust when she noticed his sense of propriety as she delivered her father’s invitation to him. Hence, she advises her father to hire him so that he would spare her and her sister the trouble of doing a shepherd’s work. She commends him for his ability to do the work and his honesty and integrity. As she gives this advice, she speaks clearly, without hesitation, fearing no misunderstanding or unworthy suggestions.

We need not bother with what commentators exaggerate about Moses’ physical strength. They mention, for example, that he single-handedly lifted the stone covering the well, which needed 20 or 40 men to lift. In fact, the well was not covered, but the shepherds were watering their flocks, and Moses either moved them away while he watered for the two women, or joined them as they watered their own cattle.

Nor do we need to bother with reports speaking about his integrity suggesting that he said to the woman to walk behind him and direct him how he should go. Thus, he would not see her walking in front of him. Other reports suggest that he said this after the wind lifted her skirts and exposed her legs. All this is unnecessary, trying to remove suspicion that does not exist. Both Moses and the girl were naturally prudish, and this reflects in their normal behavior, without any affectation.

The old man acted on his daughter’s advice. He probably sensed a mutual liking between his daughter and Moses that could be the basis for a happy family. It is natural that a young woman with a healthy, uncorrupted nature should be inclined toward a man in whom she discerns strength and honesty. Hence, the old man combined the two purposes, suggesting to Moses to marry his daughter in return for staying with him, looking after his sheep, for eight years. Should Moses increase the period to ten years, this would be an added favor, not a commitment to which he would be held:

(The father) said: “I will give you one of these two daughters of mine in marriage on the understanding that you will remain eight years in my service. If you should complete ten years, it will be of your own choice. I do not wish to impose any hardship on you. You will find me, if God so wills, an upright man.” (Verse 27)

Frankly and simply the old man offered one of his daughters, without naming her, as a wife for Moses, but he might have felt that the girl was known to him as they seemed inclined to each other. He made the offer without any thought of embarrassment, for the offer was one of marriage. There is nothing to be embarrassed about when the aim is to build a home and establish a family. It is only when people move away from sound, natural values, to observe unhealthy traditions, that they are unnecessarily restricted. Thus, we see that no parent or guardian can approach a man of sound faith and integrity to propose that he should marry his daughter, sister or other relative. Such traditions make it imperative that the man or his parents should make the proposal, as it is improper that the woman’s side should make a proposal. The irony is that under such deviant traditions and in such social environment, young men and women meet, talk and play together without any intention to be engaged to be married. Once the idea of marriage is entertained, affected shyness is observed and other barriers are erected to prevent any simple, frank and honest discussion.

During the Prophet’s lifetime, fathers used to offer their daughters to men in marriage. Indeed, women offered themselves to the Prophet or to whomever he wished them to marry. This was done in all honesty and propriety, without any embarrassment to anyone. (Umar offered his daughter in marriage to Abu Bakr first but he did not answer, then he offered her to Uthman but he regretfully declined. Then Umar told the Prophet who comforted him saying that God may give her a better husband than both. The Prophet then married her. A woman also offered herself to the Prophet but he expressed his regret. She then placed herself under his care to marry her to whomever he thought suitable. He married her to a man who had nothing other than the fact that he learned two surahs, and he undertook to teach them to her. She received this dowry.

With such open and simple approach, Islamic society used to build its homes. Nothing needed to be done under cover, or with affected or devious means. This is exactly what the old man who made such a proposal to Moses, promising not to impose any hardship on him or ask him what was beyond his means, did. He hoped that, with God’s grace, Moses would find him to be an upright man. This is most appropriate when one talks about oneself. He neither boasts of his virtues nor emphatically states that he is a good person. He only hopes to be so, leaving the matter to God.

Moses accepted the offer, and the contract was made, clear and precise, calling God as a witness: “Answered (Moses): This is agreed between me and you. Whichever of the two terms I fulfill, I trust I shall not be wronged. God is the witness to all we say.” (Verse 28)

Contractual agreements must be made in all clarity, leaving no room for ambiguity. Neither party should allow shyness or embarrassment to interfere with such clarity. Thus, Moses approves the offer and accepts the conditions outlined by the old man. He then repeats the main condition to ensure that there would be no misunderstanding: “Whichever of the two terms I fulfill, I trust I shall not be wronged.” (Verse 28) Whether I stay eight or ten years I shall not be wronged about the working conditions, or with being forced to stay ten years. Any stay beyond eight years is a matter left to my choice. “God is the witness to all we say.” (Verse 28) He is the witness who ensures justice between the two parties of any contract.

Moses put this so clearly because he was a straight and frank person who wanted the agreement to be absolutely clear and precise. Yet he intended to stay the longer term, as he actually did. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has mentioned that Moses “spent the longer and better of the two terms.” (Related by Al-Bukhari).

Thus, Moses found a place of security in his father-in-law’s home, having no fear of the Pharaoh and his designs. This was certainly for a definite purpose God wanted to accomplish. We will let this episode pass, as the surah does not mention anything further about it.

End.

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